Uruguay receives adequacy determination from EU for personal data protections.

At the end of August, the European Union determined that Uruguay’s privacy laws provide an adequate level of protection.  This allows companies, governments, or individuals to transfer personal information from Europe to Uruguay without the use of model contract clauses, binding corporate rules, or the US-EU and US-Swiss Safe Harbor program.  At first glance, achieving “adequacy” may not seem substantial. However with this classification, Uruguay has successfully joined an elite group of nations outside of the EU that includes only: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Faeroe Islands, Guernsey, Israel, the Isle of Man, and the United States when certain conditions are satisfied. Continue reading

Pew Survey highlights users changing concerns about privacy online

Recently, the Pew Internet and American Life Project released a report detailing consumer use of search engines.  The survey highlighted both that users have begun to learn how much of their personal data is exposed and their growing concern about their personal data is collected and used. Although US consumers are not yet demanding European like regulation, the Pew survey indicates that consumers are not completely comfortable with the status quo either.

Search Engine Study

The Search Engine Use* (click here for the study) project is part of the Pew Research Center, an independent research organization that conducts and studies trends among Americans. The study examined the extent to which consumers use search engines and their general satisfaction with the results.

The results of this survey generally demonstrated which groups of people were more inclined to use search engines. Despite any demographic differences, however, search engine use and satisfaction with search engine use has generally increased in the last ten years. Indeed, results showed that since the survey was last conducted, consumer perception of search engines has greatly increased. In general, the results indicated that consumers have more positive than negative perceptions about search engines.

From a privacy perspective, however, the most fascinating responses in the report were participants’ perceptions about the personal information being collected. Although participants noted that their search engine results have gotten increasingly relevant, sixty-five percent of the participants do not like personalized search results because they feel that it invades their privacy. Although these concerns seemed to be greatest among older participants, participants across demographic groups all expressed some level of discomfort with targeted advertising.

Concern Over Privacy

That consumers are increasingly expressing their concern over privacy should not be surprising. Consumers are increasingly becoming aware of privacy issues. For example, just one month ago, the Pew Internet and American Life Project released a separate study on social media sites where they found that consumers across the board of all demographics have been taking measures to manage the amount of private information is visible to the public.

Corporate actions are also likely to have influenced consumer perception as well.  As noted in the Pew report, the participants’ concern over targeted search results may have been influenced by the controversy over the major changes in Google’s privacy policy. And, of course, the number of high privacy breaches of private information in the last few years may have helped increase this concern. For instance, just a few months ago, the online vendor Zappos informed its customers of a major data breach and advised them to change their passwords.

Perhaps equally unsurprising was the number of participants who were unsure of how to control the flow of their information. According to the study, only about thirty percent of the participants knew how to take measures to protect their privacy while using search engines. The previously mentioned social media study only produced marginally better results. While the numbers were smaller for younger demographics, many participants mentioned their inability to manage their private information on social media sites as well.

Whether one is comfortable with the distribution of their information online is a personal matter. People will inevitably place different value on their personal information. However, if this study reflects the concerns of the majority of Americans, then it would suggest that many people are concerned about their privacy but do not know what to do about it. This may be a result of factors like inability to manage privacy policies and privacy settings. Likewise, it could also be attributed to the fact that most participants who expressed their concern about behavioral tracking on search engines were older and may not be as technologically savvy as the younger “digital native” generations.

Taking Control

Although there are currently ways for consumers to exert control over the use of their own information, these measures should be easier to use, not just for people who have used computers their entire lives, but for all people. These controls could come in the form of more streamlined and easy to read instructions. Some organizations have already developed some measures to educate consumers. Mozilla, for instance, has worked with the idea of using simple icons that indicate the nature of the information being used on the website.

Perhaps the changes need to be made within the search engines themselves. Understanding privacy policies, let alone finding ways to opt out of disclosing personal information, is often a cumbersome experience.  For example, Google released a fairly plain language version of their new privacy policy but they might also have brought more attention to ways in which consumers can opt out of certain programs if they are uncomfortable with the use of their information.

Finally, perhaps the change needs to be made with the consumers themselves. As privacy issues continue to permeate online culture, there have been an increasing number of resources that can assist consumers in managing the use of their private information.

Conclusion

Pew’s recent reports have provided some interesting insight into how consumers perceive certain privacy issues online. That consumers are starting to find ways to manage the use and flow of their personal information is a hopeful thought. As the most recent study indicates however, there are still some serious issues that must be addressed.

 

* This study follows up on an earlier study that had been conducted in 2002. To collect the data, researchers conducted telephone interviews with a random sample of over 2000 residents in January and February of 2012.  Participants ranged in all demographics and consisted of people of different ages, races, and genders. To further cover demographics, surveys were also conducted in Spanish as well as English.

SXSW Privacy Roundup: 5 Key Takeaways for Startups

SXSW Interactive, better known as SXSWi, just ended last week.  SXSWi is a wonderful event to experience new startups, applications, and innovations.  This year, privacy was a powerful theme at SXSWi because of all of the recent controversy involving mobile privacy policies and practices.  As a result, I had an opportunity to speak with many startups about privacy as well as attend panels on privacy.  In sum, SWSWi highlighted a critical issue:  most startups care about privacy but feel that they lack the resources to properly address it.  Continue reading

Book Review – I Know Who You Are and I Saw What I Did by Lori Andrews

As social networking sites have become more pervasive, the amount of private information shared online continues to grow. For some, this is just seen as the cost one must pay to take advantage of the convenience offered by the Internet. Others, however, hardly realize the effect of the information they both knowingly and unknowingly share. By bringing these issues to the forefront in in her recent book, I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did, Lori Andrews argues that perhaps these consumers should. Continue reading

European Commission Proposed Data Protection Law

On January 25, 2012, the European Commission released a proposed General Data Protection Legislation (“Proposed Regulation”) for comprehensive reform of existing European Union (“EU”) data protection rules.  Through the Proposed Regulation, the European Commission seeks to “strengthen online privacy rights and boost Europe’s digital economy.”[1] The Proposed Regulation also aims to harmonize data protection rules throughout the EU.  The current governing law is the 1995 EU Data Protection Directive, which has been implemented differently by the 27 member states.  As a result, the current law has led to different requirements for compliance and uncertain enforcement across the EU.  In contrast, the Proposed Regulation is self-implementing and applies directly; therefore, it works to harmonize the law across the EU. Continue reading

Announcing the Hastings Privacy and Technology Project

Hastings is proud to announce the launch of the Privacy and Technology Project (Project) and the launch of the Project‘s writings on the HSTLJ blog.  The Project engages in a variety of initiatives, including applied research projects and events.  As part of our activities, the Project will be posting content regularly on the Hastings Science & Technology Journal’s blog. These posts will cover a range of topics, including, but not limited to, international issues surrounding privacy and technology, commentary on cutting edge issues and proposed legislation, opinion pieces, book and article reviews, and other topics that touch upon privacy and technology. Our goal is to contribute to the growing discourse on privacy and technology. Continue reading